Hunting Tre Arrow: The Flight of America’s Most Wanted Eco-Terrorist
Two years before the U.S. Justice Department branded him a terrorist, Tre Arrow was hailed as an environmental rock star. The young man literally ascended to that status on the afternoon of July 7th, 2000, when he freeclimbed the brick wall of a building in Portland, Oregon, then lived there for eleven days on a nine-inch ledge, outside the windows of the city’s U.S. Forest Service offices. During what became known as Tre’s “ledge sit,” supporters cheered him from the sidewalks as a hero, while in court, attorneys compared him to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
After the ledge sit, Tre became the most visible figure in a largely underground movement that was spreading far beyond the forests of the Pacific Northwest to challenge assumptions about nearly every aspect of humankind’s relationship with the natural world. These mostly young crusaders saw themselves as the only real opposition left to the forces of corporate greed, and they became increasingly convinced that radical, aggressive, even violent protests were the only way to achieve their ends.
Today, at age twenty-eight, Tre is a fugitive from the federal government. Indicted on the basis of an investigation conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force, he faces as many as eighty years in prison. Known to family and friends as a pacifist so extreme that he wouldn’t step on ants, Tre may now be an armed soldier in the “revolutionary force” of the Earth Liberation Front, an organization that in September announced its members would “no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice.”
“That isn’t Tre,” his fellow activists have said again and again since the federal indictment against him was returned on August 13th. But all they know for certain is that their friend is on the run in a world that offers fewer and fewer places to hide.
Part I: Eagle Creek
Tre’s rise to fame was triggered by what the U.S. Forest Service regarded – at least for a few hours – as its most successful action ever against the “environmental extremists” who had been keeping loggers out of the Northwest’s remnant old-growth forests for nearly a decade. It began before dawn on the morning of July 7th, 2000, when federal agents raided the Cascadia Forest Alliance “resistance camp” in the Mount Hood National Forest. The activists had closed two roads into an area known as the Eagle Creek timber sale by constructing a pair of floating pods – essentially giant hammocks made of plywood and rope webbing – in the towering conifers, then attaching them by support lines to the roads’ main gates. Anyone who attempted to move or cut the support lines would risk sending the pods – and the thirteen people who lived in them – crashing to the ground.
“It was still dark, and we all woke to people shouting, ‘They’re here! They’re here!'” remembers Tre’s friend Brian Schulv. “The Forest Service had brought in officers from all over the Northwest, all wearing camo gear, riding ATVs and carrying assault rifles.”
Though most of the activists gave up right away, seventeen-year-old Emma Murphy-Ellis, known to her forest friends as “Pitch,” held the feds off for almost eight hours, at one point placing a noose around her neck and threatening to hang herself if they came closer.
Tre Arrow wasn’t one of the tree sitters at Eagle Creek, but he had been providing ground support to his fellow Cascadians: helping to secure the pods, then shuttling supplies to the people who lived in them. Like just about everyone who had spent time there, Tre experienced life in the resistance camp as a sort of perpetual religious service conducted in an evergreen cathedral, a place where people discovered spirits in the morning fog and raptures in the afternoon sun. For them, the raid on the camp was not just an assault on a political action but the desecration of a sacred site; the mood of the Cascadians as they retreated to Portland, thirty miles away, to set up a protest outside the Forest Service offices was not just angry but mournful.
By later that day, nearly a thousand people had joined them at the demonstration, but no one seemed sure what all their marching and chanting was going to accomplish. “Tre was saying, ‘Man, something else has to happen,’ ” says Samantha Waters, another forest activist. “I nodded my head, then turned away for a moment, and when I turned back, Tre was already halfway up the wall.”
The television crews and newspaper photographers instantly trained their lenses on Tre. “His action had been totally spontaneous,” says his friend Rolf Skar. “It wasn’t until he was up there that he started thinking about how difficult it was going to be to stay on that ledge.”
Down at street level, Tre’s fellow forest activists set up a base camp, where they pitched a tent and formed a prayer circle. Tre spent much of the next two days giving interviews on a borrowed cell phone, trying to explain to reporters the “divine awakening” he had experienced several years earlier in which he realized that “the government and the corporations are lying to us” and that “we can no longer take the slaughter of our rights, the slaughter of our health, the slaughter of our planet in the name of agreed.” Though he sounded silly to some and sanctimonious to others, Tre was a charmer. He blew kisses to the photographers in the street and, through a bullhorn, broadcast a seemingly unending disquisition to the crowd below. He told them how he refused to drive a car and never wore leather, bought only used products, wrote only on recycled paper and adhered to a strict vegan diet, because “eating lowest on the food chain has a minimum impact on the planet.”
Each day, the media throng grew larger. Local TV stations led with Tre nightly. His photograph appeared in newspapers from Florida to Alaska. By the time Tre agreed to comply with a court order that he come down, he was more familiar to the people of Portland than were most of their elected officials.
On the morning of July 17th, Tre brushed and scrubbed the ledge where he had spent the previous eleven days and then rappelled down the front of the building – stopping his fall ten feet above the ground to flip upside down and flash the peace sign. “This is not over by a long shot,” he said after dropping to the sidewalk. “Everyone get on buildings! Everyone get to the woods! I love you.” With that, he surrendered to the police, who charged him with criminal trespass and contempt of court.
From a PR standpoint, Tre’s action was so successful that within days the Cascadia Forest Alliance announced that its activists were going back to the forest to stage another action at Eagle Creek. While Forest Service officials warned that allowing anti-logging protesters to get away with blocking its roads would only invite further illegal actions, politicians sided with the activists. Within a few weeks of Tre’s ledge sit, four of Oregon’s five congressional representatives had sent letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for “further review” of the Eagle Creek sale. Sen. Ron Wyden went another step, persuading Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to form an independent environmental-review panel to consider calling the whole thing off.
Even Al Gore would weigh in. His campaign hit Portland a few days before Election Day. Gore was determined to persuade voters leaning toward Ralph Nader that Gore would be “a president who will protect old-growth forests” like the one timber interests were trying to log at Eagle Creek. It was an awkward moment. Gore hadn’t uttered a peep of protest five years earlier when his boss, Bill Clinton, had signed into law a bill that was supposed to have saved Oregon’s old-growth forests from loggers but was swiftly proved to be a piece of legislative flim-flam. The offending law was known as the Salvage rider. Clinton had agreed to it to mollify a pair of Republican senators who were looking out for their friends in the timber industry. Purportedly designed to permit the thinning of damaged forests and to streamline timber sales by precluding lawsuits and limiting the scope of environmental-impact statements, the broadly worded Salvage rider had been exploited by both public and private interests to increase tree-cutting nationwide, but especially in the Northwest. In Portland, Gore apologized for his failure to publicly oppose the rider, then vowed to stop building roads among old-growth trees and restore salmon runs in Northwest rivers. Leaders of the area’s mainstream environmental organizations ranging from the Sierra Club to the Oregon Natural Resources Council were on hand to join Gov. John Kitzhaber in welcoming Gore back into the fold. The next day, a front-page article in The Oregonian about Gore’s visit included only a single dissenting voice: Tre Arrow’s. “Garbage,” he labeled Gore’s speech. “A total lie.”
Tre, by then, had been recruited by the Pacific Green Party to be its candidate for the Third District of the U.S. Congress. That November, Tre garnered a slightly higher percentage of votes than Nader did, despite the fact that almost nobody in the state knew his real name or where he’d come from.
Part II: The Wrestler
Michael James Scarpitti grew up in Jensen Beach, Florida, in a rambling lakeside home insulated from the mansions of Palm Beach just a few miles away by layers of suburban sprawl. His father, Jim Scarpitti, owned a plumbing and air-conditioning business, while his mother, Melody, worked as a real estate agent.
Mike, their only son, first achieved public prominence as a star wrestler at Martin County High School. At age thirteen, Mike began seriously lifting weights. “He transformed his body into four percent body fat,” his father says. “He was ripped, let me tell you.”
Mike was regarded by both his teachers and fellow students as a sweet, smart kid with a gentle nature that belied his ferocity on the mat. Mike made most of his spending money baby-sitting, a job he had trained for during the years his parents served as foster parents for Catholic Charities, taking in infants who had been given up for adoption until permanent placements could be arranged. “Mike pitched in and helped us take care of those babies,” his father says. “He fed them, changed their diapers, and he was great about it.”
His devotion to wrestling had begun to wane during his last couple of years at high school, replaced by a new passion for music. By graduation, he was playing piano, drums and guitar, and was determined to pursue a career as a musician. “My brother was always someone who had deep feelings and could express them very well,” his older sister, Shawna, says. “He was way mature for a teenage boy. If something moved him, he would cry about it without any shame at all.” His parents lobbied hard to get Mike to enroll at Florida State University.
It was during his second semester at FSU that their son began to change. “It started with this health-and-fitness class he took,” Jim Scarpitti says. “All of a sudden he announces he’s a vegetarian, then, the next thing we know, he’s a vegan.” His parents were reassured when Mike won a service award for a recycling program he started in his dorm. “Mike was and is a very earnest kid,” Jim says. “He became a walking encyclopedia about health and fitness, nutrition and herbs, and that sort of thing.”
During his second year at FSU, Mike and some friends formed a band they called Soya Bean Fields and played at clubs and coffeehouses all over Tallahassee. By the end of his sophomore year, Mike had decided that his college career was completed. “When he got his associate of arts degree, he sent it home to us,” Jim says. “He wrote something like, ‘You were the ones who wanted this, so you keep it.'”
Mike spent the next few years on the road. He lived for a while in Boulder, Colorado, and in Cincinnati, where he fathered a child with his backup singer. At that point, marriage was out of the question. The mother stayed in Ohio with the baby, and Mike moved on to Sedona, Arizona. He and the mother remained close. Jim and Mel described the young woman as “our third daughter,” and they regularly visited their granddaughter.
A visit to Portland convinced Mike it was time to relocate once again. “He just fell in love with the Northwest,” Jim remembers. “Whenever Mike would write to us, he’d include all these drawings of the scenery, the white-capped mountains and the dark-green forests. He’s a gifted artist, and his letters were like illustrated novels.”
Once he’d moved to Portland, he began to introduce himself as Tre Arrow. Music was still his primary focus, but around this time he was getting more deeply involved with environmental activism. In summer 1999, the family gathered for a vacation at a dude ranch in Montana, where Mike’s sister Gina was working. “When he talked about what they were trying to do to the forests out in Oregon, his voice would tremble, and he would almost be in tears,” Jim says. The last time Tre visited his family home was at the end of 2000. By then, he had legally changed his name to Tre Arrow. He would eat only raw foods, refused to wear shoes, rarely bathed and insisted on sleeping outdoors. Tre’s devotion to the natural world had become a sort of religion, it seemed to Jim, who describes his son’s forest activism as “almost cultlike.” Mike prayed to the moon and the stars, and carried ants out of the house to avoid crushing them. He also declined to say much about “the community” of people who surrounded him back in Oregon.
“Friends would tell us that this was a phase, that he would grow out of it,” Jim says. “But deep down in my heart, I knew it wasn’t true. We weren’t really concerned, though, because Mike was still such a good kid. And everything he says is the honest-to-God’s truth if you think about it. What we’re doing to the earth is terrible. Mike is one of those people who can’t look the other way.”
Near the end of his Christmas visit, Mike’s parents tried to convince him that he was risking his life foolishly. The conversation ended badly. “Voices were raised, and harsh words were said,” Shawna says. “It was the main reason my brother didn’t come home again.”
After Mike returned to Portland, his parents found it difficult to keep in contact with him, and when they did get their son on the phone, he was hazy about the details of his daily life. “He told us he spent a lot of time in the pods,” Jim says. “But he didn’t want to say a lot about it.” By spring 2001, Jim and Mel Scarpitti could contact their son only by leaving messages with a woman they knew only as Martha. “We could get little information out of her,” Jim says. “She at least would tell Mike when we called, because he always phoned us back, but if we started asking questions, she was real vague and sort of unfriendly.”
Part III: Standoff
During the fall of 2001, the battle for the forest moved to the Oregon coast, where the state Department of Forestry had just auctioned off the rights to log 124 acres in God’s Valley, designated the Acey Line Thin. Tre Arrow was but one of twenty Cascadians arrested there in October, but he garnered more publicity than all the others combined. Of course, he was the only one who nearly died.
Tre was with the Cascadia activists who entered the Acey Line sale site on the morning of October 4th, in defiance of assorted state forestry officials, loggers and sheriff’s deputies from two counties. “The police got really angry when Tre drew them away and led them on a chase through the woods,” says Samantha Waters, one of the activists who was there.
When Tre climbed a hemlock fir to avoid being caught, officials responded with an unprecedented level of aggression, first sending a climber with a chain saw up the tree, then ordering the climber to remove each limb as he went. As the man approached Tre’s perch in the top limbs, Tre began to rock the tree, then catapulted himself into the next one. Startled officials ordered loggers to take the first tree down, section by section, then informed Tre they were going to cut down every tree within a thirty-foot radius. Tre answered by launching himself once more, this time into the tallest of the nearby trees, “to try to protect it,” he explained later.
While police officers looked on, loggers took down every nearby tree until Tre was alone in the top of the tallest fir, peering down at them from a height of nearly 100 feet. Once again, forestry officials sent their climber up, who took off limbs as he went. “Finally, we were just a few feet apart, and we talked for a couple of minutes,” Tre said in an interview with Alternatives magazine. “He told me that I was crazy, that he loved these forests, that if I believed in Jesus and God, I wouldn’t be doing all this. At that point, a man on the ground called up, instructing the logger twice to use his chain saw to cut the branch I was standing on. The logger in the tree looked at me and said he wouldn’t deliberately kill someone like that.”
After the first climber returned to the ground, another one came up after Tre. This time, Tre noticed that one of the sheriff’s deputies was aiming a rifle at him.
The standoff would last nearly forty-eight hours. Through both of the long nights he stayed in the tree, the loggers and deputies sounded sirens, blasted music, revved chain saws and strobed Tre’s face with generator-fired floodlights. Finally, at about 2 A.M. on Saturday, October 6th, Tre lost his grip and plummeted from the tree. “He passed out from complete exhaustion after hour upon hour of nonstop harassment,” says Rolf Skar.
Forestry officials admitted that the only thing that prevented Tre’s death was the pile of cut tree limbs he fell into. As it was, he barely survived; he suffered a dislocated shoulder, torn ligaments in his knee, several fractures to his pelvis, a broken rib that collapsed one lung and a concussion so severe that his brain bled for several days. Before driving him to the hospital, sheriff’s deputies charged Tre with criminal trespass, interfering with police and interfering with an agricultural operation. “I am totally confident we did the right thing,” Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl told The Oregonian. But other locals hardly saw it that way. “We’re shocked and embarrassed that our local authorities caused all this to happen,” a store owner said. A concerned Gov. Kitzhaber ordered a review of what state employees had done at Acey Line. The logging crews in God’s Valley continued to cut trees during Tre’s convalescence, but the Cascadians knew they were on the brink of victory in the more important battle along Eagle Creek. What they didn’t want to talk about, though, was the arson attack that had helped put them there.
Part IV: Paranoia
It had been clear for at least a couple of years that the success or failure of the forces aligned against one another at Eagle Creek would define the struggle for Northwest forests. The Cascadia Forest Alliance agreed with the U.S. Forest Service that Eagle Creek was probably as well planned as any timber sale in the agency’s history. No old-growth timber was targeted; trees would be thinned rather than clear-cut; little, if any, road building would be required; and the endangered species with the highest profile, the spotted owl, would not be affected. “It probably is the best they can do,” conceded Cascadia spokesman Donald Fontenot. “But guess what? That’s not good enough…. Nothing short of ending logging on public lands is good enough.”
The first real battle between a new breed of environmental activists and the timber industry had been staged a hundred miles south, at Warner Creek. The Cascadia Forest Alliance, in fact, had organized within the walls of the “fort” (complete with drawbridge and tower) that activists had used to block the Warner Creek road for eleven months. The Warner Creek campaign was both a demonstration of how effective the activists’ tactics could be and a daunting demonstration of how determined the federal government had become to suppress forest activism. The timber auctions that had traditionally provided the only public forum for objecting to the sale of trees on public lands were transformed by federal agents into intelligence-gathering operations. “Forest Service officers started by videotaping the faces of who spoke at the auctions, then of everyone who attended the auctions,” says Cascadia’s Kim Marks. “Then they started going outside and videotaping everyone’s license plate.”
Paranoia among the activists escalated dramatically when an attorney in Eugene, Lauren Regan, obtained documents demonstrating that the federal government had used a convicted drug dealer to infiltrate forest activists and that this informant had been assigned to target people who had been identified as leaders of the Warner Creek campaign. Word of what Regan learned spread swiftly among alliance members. The belief that they were engaged in an ongoing struggle against their own government served only to drive the Cascadians deeper into the “security culture” they had adopted during the Warner Creek campaign. Fewer forest activists used their last names or talked about their family backgrounds. “You learn not to ask a lot of personal questions,” Brian Schulv says, “and to be suspicious of people who do.”
Secrecy and militancy tend to feed off each other, of course, and the Cascadia Forest Alliance appeared to become both more insular and more aggressive during the spring of 2001, as it prepared for another summer of protests at Eagle Creek.
Activists hurried to the woods on June 1st, when the first team of loggers showed up for the season, using their chain saws to clear undergrowth from the road that led to the logging site. After they left, twenty Cascadians locked arms, blocking the road and preventing the U.S. Forest Service from delivering the loader needed to clear the slash.
That small victory was overshadowed, though, by what had happened under cover of darkness twelve hours earlier and fifteen miles south in the town of Estacada, where three trucks belonging to Ray A. Schoppert Logging, the company contracted to work the Eagle Creek sale site, had been firebombed. The devices used were simple – milk jugs filled with Coleman lantern fuel – but effective, destroying one of the trucks and seriously damaging the two others.
“An attempt to discredit us,” the Cascadia Forest Alliance called the Schoppert firebombing, but it soon was clear to everyone that this single act of violence had brought the Cascadians closer to their goal more than anything since Tre Arrow’s ledge sit a year earlier. One after another, Oregon sawmills informed Vanport Manufacturing, the company holding the rights to the timber at Eagle Creek, that they were declining to purchase or process any logs that came from the disputed site.
During the next few months, the Eagle Creek sale fell apart completely, and Vanport pulled out of its deal with the Forest Service. Forest activists scoring victories over logging, read The Oregonian headline on the story that reported the company’s change of heart.
The subject of the Eagle Creek timber sale all but disappeared from papers until one year later, in August 2002, when the U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland announced that an investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force had resulted in a grand jury indictment against four persons accused of the firebombing at Schoppert Logging and that one of them was Michael James Scarpitti, a.k.a. Tre Arrow.
Part V: Radicalized
The charges were four felonies, each detailed in an indictment filled with words such as destruction, fire and violence. Named along with Tre Arrow were two men and a woman, all in their early to mid-twenties, who belonged to a Portland State University group called Students for Unity, better known for its involvement in civil-rights controversies than for environmental activism. The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Mike Mosman, called the indictment “a major first step in investigating eco-terrorism.”
The three PSU students charged in the firebombing – Jacob Sherman, 20, Angela Cesario, 23, and Jeremy Rosenbloom, 25 – were all arrested, then released from custody after pleading not guilty and promising to remain in Portland, to stay home after 10 p.m. and not to associate with environmental activists. Only Tre Arrow remained “at large,” as the FBI put it. His friends from the Cascadia Forest Alliance said they hadn’t seen or heard from Tre since he headed south to California months earlier, and insisted that it was unfair to call him a fugitive, because he might not even be aware of the charges against him.
His family, however, had little doubt that Tre knew the feds were after him. Although they hadn’t seen their son in months, Jim and Mel Scarpitti say the young man they still called Mike had stayed in touch, phoning home every two weeks or so. He had recently called from Davis, California. “He said he had been asked to join in the endeavors to save the redwoods,” Mel says, “and was thinking about it.”
Darryl Cherney, a veteran Earth First! activist and a driving force behind Earth First!’s Sierra Pacific campaign, doesn’t think Tre made it to the redwoods but says he met him in early June at the Earth First! Sierra Rendezvous, where Tre put on a campfire concert. “A heroic, charismatic, inspiring figure,” Cherney calls Tre. Cherney sensed that Tre was looking for a direction. “I think his fall from the tree in Oregon was a pivotal event,” he says. “The discovery that his own government would try to kill him for protesting against it had made him question everything he was doing.”
Tre’s sister Shawna concurs. “He told me that whole experience was so terrible,” she says. “He was devastated, physically, mentally and spiritually. He felt there was no mercy in the people who had done this to him, and he became even more paranoid about the government than he had been before.” Nevertheless, she sensed that by summer 2002 her brother was “happier than he had been in years,” she says. “For a while, he seemed really disillusioned. After the ledge sit and his fall from the tree, he sort of pulled away from the Cascadia Forest Alliance. A lot of money had come in to the organization because of him, and he sort of felt like he was being used as a fund-raising tool.”
Her brother had become difficult to reach during late 2001 and early 2002, Shawna says, “and when he did call, he didn’t say much about what he was doing.” Tre was much more forthcoming, however, when she spoke to him this summer. “He gave me the impression he was going to go back to Portland, and perform and record his music,” says Shawna.
But first he intended to travel. In midJune, he began to hitchhike east on a crosscountry trip. His parents spoke to him when he arrived in Cincinnati in early July to spend time with his daughter. “Mike certainly didn’t give us any indication that he thought he was in trouble,” Jim says. Jim and Mel last heard from their son when he phoned them from Pittsburgh on August 13th, at almost exactly the moment when the indictment against him was returned by the federal grand jury in Portland. “I’m sure Mike didn’t know anything about it,” Mel says. “He said he was on a ‘renewal journey.’ ” Tre even gave his parents the phone number of the woman he was staying with.
But the next morning, when the FBI showed up at that woman’s front door. Tre was gone, having disappeared while it was still dark out. His parents have not heard from him since.
A week later, FBI agents showed up at the Scarpittis’ house to interview Jim and Mel. “We were floored,” Jim says. “We both find it very difficult to accept that he would be involved in anything beyond peaceful civil disobedience.” They told the agents they would urge their son “to get back to Portland and turn himself in,” Jim says, “because I’m convinced that would be what’s best for him.”
What the FBI didn’t tell the Scarpittis, though, was that the Joint Terrorist Task Force suspected their son of participation in a far more aggressive arson attack in Pennsylvania on August 11th, two days before his indictment in Portland. The blaze at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northeast Research Station in Irvine, Pennsylvania – not far from Pittsburgh, where Tre had been staying – caused more than $700,000 in damage and destroyed years of research. The Earth Liberation Front issued a press release in which it claimed responsibility for the blaze: “This facility was strategically targeted, and if rebuilt, will be targeted again for complete destruction. Furthermore, all other U.S. Forest Service administration and research facilities nationwide should now be considered likely targets.”
Part VI: The Revolutionaries
Since its formation in 1997, the Earth Liberation front has taken credit for the majority of significant “eco-terror” incidents in the United States. Many other acts of sabotage against “those involved in exploitation or destruction of the environment,” as ELF puts it, have been committed by individuals who may or may not be directly associated with the group, since 1980, when the federal government began keeping count. While the total number of incidents is in the hundreds, and the combined property damage exceeds $50 million, the overall impact of “underground direct action,” as environmental activists describe it, has been much greater than these figures suggest. Because of eco-terrorism, companies ranging from sawmills to movie studios have changed the way they do business.
Before ELF existed, eco-terror was generally carried out by ad-hoc groups of between two and six people who chose targets in their communities and kept what they had done to themselves. ELF essentially formalized what already existed into the system of “anonymous cells” by which the movement operates. In the process, it has done spectacularly well at avoiding detection. To this day, no one in law enforcement has penetrated ELF, and no reporter has obtained an interview with an avowed ELF member.
“The history of social change shows that it takes stepping outside societal laws to make change happen,” Says Craig Rose-braugh, who for the last four years has been the public face of ELF. Rosebraugh is a skinny, shaven-headed young man who wears wire-rimmed glasses and black com-bat boots. In 1998, he announced that he had received an e-mail from ELF claiming responsibility for the arson that caused more than $12 million in damage to a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, the largest eco-terror attack ever. Rosebraugh insisted that he did not know who had sent him the e-mail and said he was not an ELF member – though he did agree with the group’s aims.
Rosebraugh has made no public statements that would connect him with any of the crimes the government suspects Tre Arrow of committing. But in an unpublished interview he gave to Rolling Stone shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., he said he had become convinced that revolutions took place only when pacifists committed to aboveground civil disobedience were backed by militants who accomplished underground acts of violence. “Liberals,” he said, “are the kind of people who support armed struggle among the Indians of southern Mexico but not here in America.” At the time, he was enrolled at Vermont’s Godard College, writing a master’s thesis “arguing the validity of armed struggle.”
It is impossible not to hear Rosebraugh’s remarks from back then echoing in the press release sent to the media to announce ELF’s responsibility for the laboratory fire set in Pennsylvania eleven months later. ELF’s members are “no longer limiting their revolutionary potential by adhering to a flawed, inconsistent ‘nonviolent’ ideology,” the press release said. “While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve. The diverse efforts of this revolutionary force cannot be contained, and will only continue to intensify as we are brought face to face with the oppressor in inevitable, violent confrontation.”
Part VII: Out There
If Tre Arrow has, as the Government suspects, joined this revolutionary force, his former associates at the Cascadia Forest Alliance will find themselves in the painfully awkward position of simultaneously applauding and deploring the young man who became their poster boy. What his fellow forest activists actually knew about the Schoppert fire, they weren’t willing to discuss; each of the Cascadians called before the federal grand jury that returned the indictment against Tre refused to answer questions, pleading the Fifth Amendment, as has been the group’s policy for several years. And when Tre was identified as a suspect in the Pennsylvania laboratory fire, his friends in Portland stopped talking about him to anyone in the media.
Then, on October 18th, the criminal charges against Tre doubled when he and Jacob Sherman were indicted on four counts involving the April 15th, 2001, firebombing of three cement trucks at Portland’s Ross Island Sand & Gravel. Unlike the later Schoppert arson attack, a claim of responsibility for this firebombing was made – in a communiqué issued by the Earth Liberation Front through its press office in Portland; it accused the sand-and-gravel company of “stealing soil” and “mishandling toxic wastes” at its location on the Willamette River. Federal agents said that the indictment had been based in part on similarities between the incendiary devices used in both the Schoppert and Ross Island firebombings.
When U.S. Attorney Mike Mosman decried ELF for “seeking to influence public policy through violence,” activists retorted that ELF is not violent and that “economic sabotage” would be a fairer description of the group’s activities than the government imposed term eco-terrorism.
ELF and its allies have made the avoidance of injury to others a primary tenet of their actions, and no one has been killed or injured as a result of an ELF action, despite the fact that the U.S. government describes eco-terrorism as America’s “most dangerous domestic threat.” Still, almost every activist over the age of thirty recognizes the dangers of direct action. “‘Armed struggle’ will achieve nothing but disaster,” says Rodney Coronado, the Yacqui Indian who became a mythical figure within the underground environmental movement in the late 1980s.
Coronado played a part in sinking two whaling ships in Iceland and disrupting fox hunts in England. After leading a series of arson attacks on animal-research laboratories, Coronado was sought by the FBI beginning in 1990 and was able to elude authorities for three years. As a result, few people on the planet are in a better position to understand Tre Arrow’s present circumstances. “My experiences on the run put me through a real spiritual transformation,” says Coronado. “It’s a harsh existence. You have to keep moving and keep your head down. You feel alone even when you have company.” In the next breath, he adds that he isn’t sure whether he would urge Tre to turn himself in. “On the one hand, he’s at risk,” Coronado says. “On the other hand, this may all be part of preparing him for something greater.”
The feds brought Coronado to ground in 1994 and sent him away for three years. When he got out of prison in 1997, he emerged as a spokesman for those who believe their largely political movement should transform itself into something like an anti-materialist eco-religion that will be in place when global warming and the depletion of resources finally bring the chickens home to roost. “We have to proceed with caution,” he says. “The problem is, we have a whole generation of activists maturing without any hope that working through the system will produce results. I meet all these eighteen-and nineteen-year-olds who are totally disenchanted with the American way of life and immediately jump into direct action. I tell them, when you talk about an ‘armed revolutionary force,’ you start attracting people who are comfortable with force and violence. You lose the moral high ground – at least some of it.”
Coronado has followed the Tre Arrow story closely and has been disturbed most by media reports saying that Tre faces a sentence of up to eighty years in prison. During his own first year on the run, Coronado says, news articles that repeatedly mentioned a maximum sentence of fifty or sixty years became “the main incentive I had for hiding out. I actually was carrying a gun, because I believed there was no way I was going to prison for that long without a fight. If I’d known I would face only four or five years in prison, I might have come in and answered the charges. I hope Tre has people around him who are helping him maintain perspective. He’s not really facing eighty years.”
Tre may be facing more than four or five, however. The entire environmental movement was shaken last year when a twenty-two-year-old activist named Jeff Luers – better known as “Free” to the Cascadia Forest Alliance members who recruited him for their Warner Creek campaign – was sentenced to almost twenty-three years for setting fire to several pickup trucks at an auto dealership in Eugene. The judge who issued the sentence relied on the dubious argument that Luers had endangered the lives of the firefighters who extinguished the blaze, but to most of Free’s fellow activists, it was a warning that in the age of the war on terrorism, they may face much more serious consequences than in the past.
Whether he accepts it or not, Tre Arrow has become a pivotal figure for an activist community that has largely agreed on goals but continues to debate methods. The argument is no longer just about crossing the line from civil disobedience into criminal mischief but about transforming a campaign of protest and sabotage into an armed rebellion. The communiqué issued by ELF after the August fire in Pennsylvania “is definitely upping the ante,” Coronado Says. “The feds will probably be a lot tougher on anyone connected to that group from now on.” At the same time, he says, “the new post-9/11 atmosphere is forcing us to recognize that we have become, in our enemies’ eyes, the resistance movement that we’ve always spoken of being. It’s definitely going to separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ll lose some people, but those we keep will be the truly committed.”
And Tre Arrow almost certainly will be their paragon, which is exactly what his family has feared all along. “From the very beginning, from back in the time of the ledge sit, Mike’s mom and I worried that he would be turned into some kind of target for the government or some kind of martyr to the environmental movement,” Jim Scarpitti says. “The government-target part has already happened. I just hope I get to talk to my son again before the martyr part does too.”
This story is from the December 12, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.